Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Wrestling Jerusalem
Philadelphia Theatre Company
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Also see Rebecca's review of Lights Out: Nat "King" Cole


Aaron Davidman
Photo by by Ken Friedman
Asking people to consider a new perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems pointless at best and dangerous at worst, yet that is exactly what Aaron Davidman sets out to do in his one man show Wrestling Jerusalem, currently in production at Philadelphia Theatre Company. By eschewing comfortable narratives or broad generalizations in favor of open-ended questions and individual stories, his ambitious efforts meet with surprising success.

Over the course of the show, Davidman (who is also the author) plays 17 different people—male and female, Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Arab—and offers the audience some unique perspectives on the ongoing struggle in the Middle East. The transitions happen with breakneck speed, but thanks to Michael John Garcés' clear direction and Davidman's considerable skill with mannerisms and accents, it is always easy to distinguish between the characters. The play calls to mind the work of acclaimed playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith, who also portrays multiple characters in order to shed light on the nature of seemingly intractable conflicts.

The character transitions are impressive, but the real magic happens when the pace slows down a bit and the audience has the opportunity to really connect with one of characters and their story. At its best, Wrestling Jerusalem feels a lot like sitting down for coffee with a new friend. It seems it would be hard for anyone to leave the theater without a sense of sympathy for both sides. And an understanding of why the peace both sides so desperately desire may be impossible to achieve.

Nephelie Andonyadis' set is appropriately sparse; a blank canvas on which Davidman can build his world. The lighting ends up doing a lot of the heavy lifting in this production and Allen Willner's design is excellent.

Wrestling Jerusalem was developed at Washington's Theater J and originally performed at the Mosaic Theater Company on H Street NE as part of that group's ongoing Voices from a Changing Middle East festival. Philadelphia Theatre Company brings this production to the pleasantly intimate Suzanne Roberts Theatre where it feels just right for the space. Everyone can learn from and enjoy hearing these stories, but for anyone who is interested in Middle Eastern politics or Jewish identity, this one is a must-see.

Wrestling Jerusalem runs through November 5, 2017, at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street. Tickets are available at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre box office, online at philatheatreco.org, or by phone 215-985-0420.

Cast and Crew:
Aaron Davidman: Writer and Performer
Michael John Garc├ęs: Director
Nephelie Andonyadis: Set Design
Allen Willner: Lighting Design
Bruno Louchouarn: Sound Design
Stacy Printz: Choreographer


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